It’s quince time again – Summerfields
Quince Jelly is one of our most favourite things. It almost has a perfume rather than a flavour. It is unlike anything else and its exotic, aromatic qualities reminds us of orange blossom water orroses. We also love that you start with white fruit and get a brilliant red jelly – that is just plain awesome.
We get our quinces off a friend. Last year she gave us a bag for free but I think she is onto our addiction and this year we had to swap her a jar of apricot jam for quinces. (Actually we offered her a big jar of jam, and home-made plum sauce, anything to have a bag of quinces but she would only take the little jar of jam.)
This year we had also had the epiphany that the quince fruit pulp could be used to make quince paste (dulce de membrillo). The quince jelly was made according to the Edmonds book jelly instructions. Very straight forward – boil up the fruit with water and a little lemon juice, strain, put the pulp in a separate saucepan, add equal amounts of sugar (we added a little less) to the quince flavoured water and boil up again until you have your jelly. This year we peeled and cored the fruit since we wanted the pulp for the paste. We stuck the peels and core in some muslin and added it to the boiling jelly so we could extract maximum flavour and pectin from the quinces.
Then we took the quince pulp, smoothed it with the stick blender and set it going, turning itself into quince paste. More sugar was added and the pulp was bubbled away at a low simmer, Rotorua-like, until it thickened and had turned a deep red. It made really deep, loud “plop” noises while it was cooking that rumbled right though the stove and rattled pans on the bench! It took ages (probably four hours) but we were nervous of burning it so we had it on a pretty low heat. Once it had reached a rich red colour and we had tested a small blob to make sure it was going to set hard, we turned it out into a pan and left it to dry in the oven overnight. The oven was turned off, but we left the fan running. Once it was set we could cut it up into little slabs, ready to go onto a cheese board. We ended up with 1.5 kilos of the stuff!
So, what is it with this quince paste then? We’re all pretty familiar with quince jelly in New Zealand, and some of us will have had some kind of fancy fruit paté on a cheese board or in a Christmas hamperat some stage, but quince paste is not something we eat a lot of down here. This is not the case in Spain, Italy and South America where quince paste, or dulce de membrillo, is quite a delicacy. According to Wikipedia it originated in Portugal and Spain (Southern Italy was under Spanish control at that stage, so it was produced there too). It spread to South and Central America with the Conquistadors (one assumes), so it is also eaten in Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. It’s served with cheese, where the sweet perfumed flavour works perfectly against the sharp tangy cheese. It’s spread on bread and baked into pastries. In fact quinces seem to enjoy a worldwide following through the centuries from the Middle East to Greece and Bulgaria – it seems many cuisines have a soft spot for quinces. It’s wonderful to have two products from one fruit. Very little was thrown away making the jelly and the paste. The only bits that went in the bin were the cores and skin. All that was added was water and (a lot) of sugar. The jelly is already being devoured on our morning toast, and we have 1.5 kilos of quince paste to enjoy, cook and generally experiment with.